I have been frustrated in trying to figure out how to use verbal phrases consisting of a verb plus a preposition/adverb in an adjectival or noun context. I'm sure I didn't use the right linguistic phraseology there, so let me tell you what I mean. I'm speaking of verbal phrases such as "build out," "work out," "build up," "put in," "sell off," "sell out," etc., where the auxiliary word isn't really working as either an preposition or an adverb. It's simply part of a verbal phrase. When used as a verb, other words may either be placed in between the words of the verbal phrase or after it. E.g., "sell it off" vs. "sell off your stock." I would be interested to hear what the appropriate part of speech is for the auxiliary word in these verbal phrases.
That much is easy: out, up, in, off, etc. are all prepositions, and in the cited combinations with verbs, they are simply intransitive prepositions. But MDS continues:
However, that's not my main issue.
My question pertains to how these verbal phrases should appear when used in the position of a noun. Obviously, one doesn't continue the use of the two words separated by a space in such uses. But what should guide our decision whether to use a hyphen or to jam the words together? There isn't a single rule, obviously. One talks of going to work out at a "workout," not a "work-out." One looks to build up holdings in a "buildup." But, one puts a canoe in the water at a "put-in," not a "putin."
My particular frustration is with respect to building out broadband networks, as described in filings with the FCC. Should one (excuse the jargon) refer to "buildout obligations" as part of a "nationwide buildout of infrastructure," or as "build-out obligations" as part of a "nationwide build-out of infrastructure," or some combination of those? Obviously, one would not use "build out" in the adjectival or substantive versions, but are there reasons for hyphenating vs. combining the two words when using them as either a noun or adjectival phrase?
Inquiring minds want to know.
First, one more bit of syntactic terminology. English allows nouns to be used freely as modifiers of other nouns, in compound nouns and other complex-nominal constructions, and such nouns or noun phrases don't thereby become adjectives — they're still just nouns. This morning's news mentions "air support", "ground operations", "administration officials", "national security team", "terrorist sanctuary". The phrase "buildout obligations" is a compound noun analogous to "treaty obligations" or "income-tax obligations", and buildout (in whatever spelling) remains a noun, just as treaty and income tax do.
The spelling of such compound nouns — at least the question of space vs. hyphen vs. nothing — is one of the last unconquered bastions of English orthographic liberty. Particular publications may attempt to impose particular patterns for the spelling of particular compounds in particular contexts, but freedom stubbornly persists, even in the works of individual writers. Thus over the past year, Andrew Revkin's Dot Earth feature at the New York Times has used all three possible spellings for the noun [build+out]:
[link] When you combine the kind of work Levin and others are doing with this global build out of connections (which is going into fast forward as smart phone prices drop), it’s hard not to be a rational optimist, as defined in Matt Ridley’s illuminating recent book.
[link] A central point in the chorus of warnings from Bilham and other earthquake researchers is that the developing world (particularly the industrializing giants India and China) is more than replicating a similar build-out of cities in seismic danger zones.
[link] As I’ve been asserting lately, with the buildout of the “Knowosphere,” we may be poised to surmount that barrier.
I note this not to censure Mr. Revkin, but to praise him. We've lost the freedom to write "build" or "builde" or "buyld" or "buylde" or "bylde" or "bilde" — let's not rush to abandon the few feeble little orthographic liberties we have left.
That said, there are two factors that obviously play a role in our compound-spelling choices. First, more familiar combinations tend to be hyphenated or written solid — and as a compound becomes lexicalized, it is more closely combined more often. And second, there's a tendency for nominal structures of the form [[X Y] Z] to be written X-Y Z, in order to make the structure clearer to readers.
"State-Ordered Dyslexia", 8/6/2004
"More on spelling unreform", 8/7/2004
"Many new rules a little meaningfully", 8/7/2004
"Superfluity and uselessness", 8/8/2004
"Update on the Germanspellingreformoppositionmovement", 8/21/2004
And compound-spelling issues in Dutch inflamed public passions at about the same time: "Spell simply and carry a big stick", 12/21/2005.